Tag Archives: Louise Fletcher

Brainstorm (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They corrupt his invention.

Michael (Christopher Walken) heads a team of researchers who’ve been able to create an invention that allows the sensations from one person’s mind to be recorded onto tape and then transferred to someone else’s. Michael and his team see this as a profitable enterprise, but become uneasy when the government, who want to use it for military purposes, tries to intervene and take over. When Michael attempts to stop them he is fired, which forces him to take extreme measures to destroy the plant before the machine can be made.

This is to date the last feature film to be directed by special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and on a visual level it’s an inspiring ride particularly during the first half. I was also impressed with how the technology that the researchers used in the film didn’t have that dated quality to it like so many other films from that era,  which proves what a keen eye for detail Trumbull had as everything at least on the visual side looks believable and helps keep the film interesting.

Unfortunately the story, which was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who had intended to direct the film himself years earlier before the financial backing pulled out, is quite contrived and the complete opposite from the state-of-the-art effects. The plot goes off into too many different directions and the pace lumbers along too slowly. The side-story involving Michael’s reconciliation with his wife Karen (Natalie Wood) makes the thing seem more like a romance and should’ve been discarded while the main story suffers from having two different screenwriters, Robert Stitzel, Philip Frank Messina, working off of an idea that was not their own and results in an unfocused final product.

Spoiler Alert!

The climatic sequence, in which Michael and Karen are able to destroy the plant remotely through the phone lines, is too far-fetched. Destroying the plant doesn’t really stop the government from moving forward with their plans anyways as they could simply rebuild the factory and come up with a tighter security system to alleviate the loophole that Michael used so he wouldn’t be able to do it again.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The concept of an invention that would allow someone to essentially read another person’s mind doesn’t really jive as the film portrays the thoughts and memories that people have to be quite linear when in reality it’s more fragmented. Sometimes people can have several conflicting thoughts and emotions going on at the same time making it virtually impossible for another person to decipher the barrage of flashing images that they would encounter from someone else.

The film’s biggest notoriety though is the fact that it was Natalie Wood’s last movie project and while most of her principle scenes where already completed before her untimely death the few that remained were shot using her younger sister as a stand-in. Wood’s presence though and her character are completely transparent and she could’ve been written out of it and nothing would’ve been lost. Louise Fletcher, who plays a bitchy, chain smoking research scientist, gets a far more plum role and ends up being the film’s scene stealer especially with her prolonged death scene. I also got a kick out of Joe Dorsey, who plays this graying middle-aged man who locks himself inside his basement and then uses the device to watch himself having sex with a hot blonde babe over and over again until he becomes completely shut off from the rest of his family and illustrates to a degree an interesting precursor to the porn addiction phenomenon.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon video, YouTube

Firestarter (1984)

firestarter

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl has fire power.

Andrew (David Keith) and Victoria (Heather Locklear) are two struggling college students who in an attempt to make some extra money decide to take part in medical study where they receive injections of a drug that give them telepathic abilities. They later get married and have a child named Charlene (Drew Barrymore) who has the same type of abilities except hers allows her to start fires using only her mind. Now a secret governmental agency known as The Shop seeks to kidnap Charlene so they can use her abilities for their own nefarious means, which sends Charlene and her father on a cross-country run to try and escape the agency’s clutches.

If there is one thing that really stands out in this movie and makes it worth the watch it’s Drew’s performance. She was only 8 at the time, but has a presence and acting awareness that was well beyond her years and she easily upstages her more seasoned co-stars. Her character isn’t completely fleshed-out and I’ll agree with Roger Ebert in his review that she was created more like a “plot gimmick”, than anything, but Drew still makes it engaging nonetheless. My only real complaint with her character is why, when she does get apprehended by the governmental agency, that she doesn’t she just use her fire ability to burn down the door of the room that she is trapped in to escape?

George C. Scott is an equally interesting as the bad guy even though he ends up being trapped into the same type of contrived character with motivations, particularly his reasons for befriending the girl, that seem quite nebulous and even illogical. However, his presence lends an added edge and I loved his ponytail as well as the contact lens put into his left eye that gives him an android-type appearance.

The rest of the cast though does not fare as well. Art Carney and Louise Fletcher, two Academy Award winners, get stuck in a small, almost insignificant roles as a father and daughter farm family who temporarily takes in Andrew and Charlene when they are on the run, which is okay, but the idea that this same couple would later happily take in Charlene again after they had witnessed her frightening ability first-hand and the burning deaths of several people that she helped create is ridiculous. In reality they would’ve seen her as some sort of ‘freak’ to be wary of and scared that she might do the same thing to them one day and thus want nothing to do with and certainly not welcomed back into their home.

As for the plot it’s okay, but it takes quite a while to get going and only becomes moderately gripping during the second-half. The script is based of course on a Stephen King novel and the scenes showing Charlene setting various people and things on fire seemed too much like an offshoot to King’s more famous Carrie character and thus the originality is lost. There’s also just so much objects/people being set on fire one can watch before it starts getting redundant, which makes the climactic finish boring, lame and even laughable.

I also wasn’t sure how Charlene was able to stop bullets from hitting her. This subject gets discussed in a thread on IMDb with some posters surmising that it was apparently a ‘heat shield’ that she was able to create through her pyrokinesis. However, if that was the case then it should’ve gotten explained earlier otherwise it comes off looking like the filmmakers were just making up the rules as they went whenever it was convenient for them.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Natural Enemies (1979)

natural enemies 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Man kills his family.

Paul Steward (Hal Holbrook) is a middle-aged suburban father who wakes up one morning having decided that by the end of the day he will shoot and kill his wife and three children with his hunting rifle. His rationale being that life is full of inevitable disappointments and his kids are ill prepared to face life’s harsh realities, so by killing them he will be in a sense ‘protecting’ and ‘saving’ them. The rest of the film deals with conversations he has with his friends debating on whether he should go through with it or not.

Writer/director Jeff Kanew is probably best known for having done Revenge of the Nerds and this film is probably as different from that one as you can get. It is an excellent and interesting directorial debut for the most part. It is not completely successful, but you have to give him credit for putting such challenging material onto the screen. It is based on the novel by Julius Horowitz, which was probably never intended to be made into a movie, but Kanew uses the voice-over narration to its full effectiveness and I loved the quant and remote setting of the colonial home that Paul resides in.

It is really the conversations and the ongoing philosophical debates that Paul has with various acquaintances that gives it a fascinating and intellectual subtext. I especially liked his discussion with Harry (Jose Ferrer) a concentration camp survivor as well as an unintentionally amusing one with a cab driver who complains that a 247 a month rent on a 3 bedroom apartment in Queens is ‘too expensive’ even though you would be unable to find one there that cheap today. The strongest is the one that he has with his wife Miriam (Louise Fletcher) at the end that proves to be not only revealing, but riveting.

The scene where he has sex with five prostitutes is also quite well done including having classical music played over the sex scenes, which creates an unusual erotic quality. The conversation he has with them is equally interesting, but I would’ve liked to have seen a few more verbal reactions from the women.

I’ve always considered Holbrook to be one of the finest actors around and his performance here is flawless and helps give the film its impact. Fletcher is also quite good playing the polar opposite of her Nurse Ratched character. Here she is vulnerable and fragile instead of rigid and authoritative and even has a scene inside a mental hospital as a patient. The fact that she can play such different characters so solidly proves what a brilliant actress she is.

The tone is incessantly bleak and downbeat, which could easily be a turnoff for most viewers, but doesn’t lessen the validity of many of the points that it makes. There is a strong Ingmar Bergmanesque quality to this that I really liked and this film could prove quite provocative for those looking for something that is thought provoking and outside of the mainstream.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Cinema 5 Releasing

Available: VHS

Invaders from Mars (1986)

invaders from mars

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid fights off aliens.

In this remake of the 1953 original Hunter Carson plays David an 11-year-old boy who witnesses a giant spaceship landing just over the hill from his backyard. Initially no one believes him, but then his parents, teacher, and classmates start acting strangely and have weird marks on the back of their necks. The only one who believes him is Linda (Karen Black) the school counselor. Together they try to save the rest of the town and blow up the alien ship with the help of General Climet Wilson (James Karen) and the rest of the U.S. Marines.

Director Tobe Hooper crafts a loving tribute to Americana by creating a house on a soundstage and a picturesque hill where the aliens land that seems to pay tribute to the 50’s. Jimmy Hunt who played the kid in the original appears here as a policeman. The musical score by Christopher Young has a nice variety of tempos and beats. It’s loud and intense during certain segments and then almost like a lullaby over the closing credits. The special effects aren’t exactly impressive, but I did like the segment showing how the aliens surgically insert the device into the backs of people’s necks in order to turn them into zombie-like creatures. I also got a kick out of the aliens especially their leader who was made to look like a brain with eyes and a mouth, connected to something that looked like an umbilical cord that shot out of what appeared to me like a giant rectum.

The eclectic cast is fun. Louise Fletcher hams it up in another parody of her famous Nurse Ratched role this time as the overbearing teacher Mrs. McKeltch. The part where she swallows a frog whole with its green blood trickling down the sides of her mouth is a highlight.  It is also great seeing Laraine Newman playing David’s mother. The part isn’t all that exciting, but I always thought she was unfairly overlooked and underappreciated as one of the original cast members of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and her talents has never been used to their full potential.

Black is always interesting and here even more so because she plays the only normal person for a change instead of a kooky eccentric like she usually does. The only issue I had with the character is that she believed David’s story much too quickly and even showed him the back of her neck without asking why. It seemed to me that with kids and their wild imagination that she would be more hesitant and take more time in convincing.

To some extent casting Carson in the lead is interesting simply because he is Black’s son in real-life although he resembles his actor/writer father L.M. Kit Carson much more. However, the kid really couldn’t act and tries much too hard to show any type of emotion. I also thought that a normal child would have been so curious after having seen the spaceship land that he would have wanted to go to where it was beyond the hill and take a look at it and the fact that he immediately doesn’t seemed unrealistic.

The introduction of the Marines during the film’s second half backfires as it becomes too chaotic. The charm at the beginning is lost and it turns into just another campy action flick. The ‘double-ending’ is formulaic, ill-advised and ridiculous and comes very close to ruining the whole thing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, YouTube